Public art in our city isn’t just grand monuments – it comes in different guises and sizes. Discover 6 artworks you might miss if you’re not watching closely.
1. The distance of your heart by Tracey Emin (2018)
Birds are perched on buildings all around the city, but look carefully and you might find some that don’t fly away. Renowned British artist Tracey Emin has placed over 60 bronze birds throughout the city centre. The artwork is called The Distance of Your Heart and is a reflection on feeling homesick.
To express the tenderness of this emotion, the artist juxtaposes the tiny figures of the bronze birds against the tall, concrete buildings in the city. They’re so small that you won’t notice them immediately, but perhaps the search will have you seeing mundane places differently. The birds perch on poles, above doorways and on awnings along Bridge Street, from the Macquarie Street intersection to Grosvenor Street to Lang Park.
2. Lamp for Mary by Mikala Dwyer (2011)
A functional object and a vigil at once, Lamp for Mary was created to illuminate a dark lane in Surry Hills and serve as a memorial for a queer woman who survived being beaten and raped in this place. In 1996, a woman named Mary was violently attacked for her sexuality. She survived and later found out that people in nearby buildings heard the attack but didn’t act.
The community reacted in outrage and came together to reclaim the space by establishing a memorial to victims of sexual violence. This memorial was later recommissioned and reimagined in Mikala Dwyer’s work.
3. Village Voices by Astra Howard (2016)
Inspired by giant lettered billboards seen outside cinemas or churches, Village Voices doesn’t sound like the type of work that would be hidden. However, situated down a narrow laneway in Surry Hills, between the southern end of Crown Street and Wilshire Street, it’s easy to pass by if you don’t know to look. The artwork captures local stories and forgotten histories in poetry or prose.
Artist Astra Howard, who worked for many years in local crisis homeless services, aims to give a public voice to local people who have never had a chance to tell their stories.
4. Dual Nature by Nigel Helyer (1999)
Take a moment to explore the foreshore below Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool and you’ll find a group of sculptural forms. The sculptures speak to the natural and maritime history of this Woolloomooloo spot, and are complemented by hidden solar-powered audio systems that broadcast a soundscape. Dual Nature features a combination of voice fragments and natural history sounds, creating an atmosphere in which the site itself seems like it’s remembering its past.
5. Circle/s in the Round’ for (Miles and Miles +1) by Newell Harry
Giant neon circles are generally hard to miss. But you may have overlooked this particular ode to jazz great Miles Davis, tucked down Temperance Lane, off George Street. Newell Harry’s Circle/s in the Round’ for (Miles and Miles +1) is a vibrant neon wall sculpture. Running beneath the coloured circles is text reading, and mirroring, “NEVERODDOREVEN.” Inspired by Miles Davis’ 1967 ‘Circle in the Round’ recording, the work lights up the end of the dark alley.
6. Watling Tree by Caroline Rothwell (2012)
Blink and you’ll miss Caroline Rothwell’s etched steel panels attached to six sets of doors set in alcoves along Albion Place. Watling Tree is based on the iconic tree depicted in Thomas Watling’s drawings of the area from the late 1700s. The tree, which native to the area, has been reimagined many times. Rothwell’s artwork reinstalls the historical image of the tree in a contemporary medium.